FEI Takes Steps on Equine Welfare, Doping Issues

In the wake of the hyperflexion controversy sparked by viral video of an international dressage competitor's horse, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) announced November 17 that it has stepped up its efforts to ensure the welfare and humane treatment of horses being shown in FEI-recognized competitions.

A cornerstone of the policy is enforcing welfare-related rules that are already on the books--something critics complained wasn't happening with sufficient rigor or consistency, especially when well-known competitors were involved. One such rule pertains to the authority of FEI stewards (appointed competition overseers whose job it is to make sure rules are enforced) to issue verbal warnings and so-called yellow warning cards to competitors observed treating horses in a potentially inhumane manner. A rider who receives two yellow warning cards in a one-year period is automatically suspended for two months immediately following the event at which the second card was issued, according to the FEI's November 17 Statement on Horse Welfare. Stewards might need further education to remind them of their duties in this area, said the statement.

For additional guidance through the maze of welfare-related issues, the FEI has also turned to the international organization World Horse Welfare. This group will aid with research and will conduct some consciousness-raising efforts with riders, trainers, officials, and veterinarians.

The FEI statement was followed November 19 by the organization's approval of new Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations as well as of a new list of prohibited substances. The yea votes were recorded during the FEI General Assembly in Copenhagen.

Like the welfare actions, the anti-doping measures were adopted following scandal and controversy, this time involving positive tests for prohibited substances by several horses at the 2008 Olympic Games, followed by similar alleged offenses or admissions thereof by some top German international riders.

But the new regulations themselves have already provoked an uproar, thanks to an additional list, this one a "progressive list" of substances that will now be allowed in competition in limited amounts. Although the FEI itself hasn't published the list, several international equestrian media outlets, including Britain's Horse & Hound, report that phenylbutazone ("bute"), flunixin, and salicylic acid (aspirin) will be allowed.

Britain and Ireland called for a second vote on the progressive-list measure, claiming that some voters were confused as to what they were voting for, but were denied.

About the Author

Jennifer O. Bryant

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation's magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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